Published Saturday, March 16, 2013
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
Rallying back from an early seven-run deficit against unbeaten the McIntosh Chiefs to tie the game, the Northgate Vikings seemed poised for arguably its biggest Region 4-AAAAA baseball victory of the season.
But there was no return from the last one.
The Chiefs continued to showcase their offensive prowess, scoring its final eight runs off six hits in the top of the seventh to hold off the Vikings 16-8 in a battle for first place in the region.
Following its last rally that broke a 8-8 tie, McIntosh has now scored at least nine runs in all eight of its victories so far this season.
With the win, head coach Brad Campbell’s team improved to 6-0 in 4-AAAAA and avoided falling into a potential four-way tie atop the 4-AAAAA standings.
Northgate, meanwhile, dropped to 4-2 and is tied for fourth with Union Grove while holding a tiebreaker over the Wolverines following a win in McDonough this week.
The Vikings are now chasing not only the Chiefs, but a pair of one-loss teams in Mundy’s Mill and Starr’s Mill in the race for four state playoff berths in a competitive 11-team division.
Whitewater and Ola, each with 3-3 records, are next closest among those chasing the the top-five teams in the region with over a month left in the schedule.
“There’s still a lot of games to play. I rather it be this way,” said Campbell. “The kids have done a nice job. But we’ve got to be able to keep it going. Next week’s a big week for us with Starr’s Mill (4-1), Union Grove (4-2) and Ola (3-3).”
(To view photos from this game, please visit http://photos.times-herald.com/mycapture and click on Sports for the Photo Gallery.)
For the Vikings, now 7-4 overall, it was equally a tough defeat to swallow having rallied from being down 7-0 following Trey Walters’ grand slam in the top of the second inning.
Northgate head coach Greg Hamilton — minus top pitcher Robert Massenburg, who was serving the latter of a two game suspension — watched his team chip away at the deficit as the Vikings got four runs back in the second and then two in both the fourth and fifth innings to eventually tie the game on RBIs from Jordan Schmits and designated hitter Jeffrey Ginn.
Ginn finished 3-for-3 with three doubles to different spots in the outfield, scoring twice while involved in all three Viking outbursts.
Chase Allen and outfielder Andrew Burden — hitting with Ginn in the bottom half of the order — each added two hits as the team’s No. 5-9 hitters went 8-for-16 with six RBIs in the loss. James Poropatic had the other pair on his two-run homer in the fourth to pull Northgate back within an 8-6 deficit.
But despite the production and a solid effort in relief from Armond Upshaw, Northgate could never manage to give its pitching staff a lead.
“That’s the thing. We come all the way back to tie it up and then have it go that way is tough,” said Hamilton. “Give McIntosh credit. They beat us.”
Four Vikings, including Upshaw, struggled to retire McIntosh as it batted around in the seventh.
In addition to getting six of its 13 hits in their final at bat, the Chiefs benefitted from a walk and a hit batsman as the senior lefthander — who suffered a cut on his lip while trying to hustle down a foul ball in the outfield in the first — seemed to finally tire out after throwing over 70 pitches.
Upshaw came on for starter Blake Whitney held McIntosh to a solo home-run by Noah Kiker over three plus innings before struggling to open the seventh. Whitney entered Friday with a 1.32 ERA over nearly 14 innings, but was tagged for six runs on six hits.
“I thought Armond did a great job coming in for us. He’s only getting back pitching wise. He came in a little late from basketball season,” Hamilton said of Upshaw, who was hit with the loss despite his solid outing. “I thought we played pretty good defense. [McIntosh] just seemed to find every hole out there.”
It began with three runs on three hits in the first as Whitney allowed his first two batters to reach. Catcher Andrew Johnson plated two with a hit despite being thrown out at third.
Walters gave the Chiefs even more momentum in the second when he drove his first pitch toward the flagpole in deep center-field for a grand slam.
In all three of McIntosh’s multiple-run rallies, the Chiefs first two hitters reached and scored while finishing with six extra-base hits.
Despite the offensive production among a baseball staff that includes assistant coach and one-time Atlanta Braves outfielder Terry Harper, Campbell has seen a spark come from other areas on the field.
“Our pitching,” he said, matter-of-factly. “We’ve got a good group of guys and they’re working hard out there right now.”
Reliever Matt Gray earned the victory while allowing Northgate’s final two runs in the fifth over four innings work. Despite giving up 10 hits, Gray and starter Cole Pipet allowed just one walk with Gray retiring his last seven hitters in order to close out the win.